Anyone who wants a turkey for their 2021 holiday season should be able to find one.
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Domestic turkeys
Credit: Kate Kline May/Getty Images

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and it's starting to look like this year's celebrations will look similar to those of 2020. A lot of us continue to search for a sense of normalcy as the months pass by, perhaps more so now as we look towards fall and winter, starting with Thanksgiving.

A recent omnibus online survey of 1,005 U.S. adults conducted on behalf of Butterball shows that there was a 25 percent increase in first-time hosts in 2020. This year, 51 percent of hosts are looking for different ways to serve traditional recipes to make the meal more festive to wow their families and friends.

Unfortunately, however, the pandemic continues to disrupt more than travel plans and trips to grandma's house this Thanksgiving. It may be changing the supply of turkey you can expect to find in stores this year, too.

As we make preparations for traditional dishes that take center stage on dining tables across the U.S., we take a look at the star of the Thanksgiving show, turkey. We reached out to experts for their insights into the main attraction of many Thanksgiving feasts — and to find out if the rumors of a turkey shortage again this year are true.

Is There a Turkey Shortage in 2021?

Unsurprisingly, raising turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday starts well before fall, and the National Turkey Federation says that farmers have been working diligently to fulfill Thanksgiving commitments for consumers.

"Turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, and Americans can rest assured there will be enough turkeys available this holiday season," Beth Breeding with the National Turkey Federation told Allrecipes.

"However, a tight labor market and lingering supply chain challenges may affect the availability of certain specific products," she continues. "If families have a preference for a fresh turkey, a specific size turkey, or a particular turkey cut such as a bone-in breast, we recommend planning ahead with your local retailer to ensure you are able to get exactly the holiday turkey you want.

Christa Leupen with Butterball, agrees.

"In the face of supply chain challenges and uncertainty, our dedicated team members, our network of turkey growers, and our retail partners across the country are working incredibly hard to make sure there is a range of turkey products available for Thanksgiving," she tells Allrecipes.

"As for supply, there is some rumblings about what this year will bring," Sarah Anderson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Minnesota Turkey Research & Promotion Council, tells Allrecipes. "Total frozen supply is down compared to 2020, but has been increasing according to the last USDA report.

"The farmers I speak to feel confident they can fill every Thanksgiving order," she added. "Our farmers also made adjustments in production to help meet the different needs of consumers when it comes to sizes of turkey."

Brock Stein, president of Koch's Turkey Farm in Pennsylvania says, "This Thanksgiving will certainly be fascinating due to ongoing supply chain concerns and consumers preferences in light of the ongoing global pandemic. We estimate some return to family gatherings, compared to 2020, because of the vaccine rollout, but there will continue to be much smaller gatherings than pre-pandemic holidays."

Bottom line: Experts expect shoppers will want smaller turkeys in again in 2021 due to smaller gatherings, and that may put a push on shoppers to buy the smaller turkeys before they're all snapped up.

Or, as Breeding says, "The bottom line is that no matter how you're celebrating Thanksgiving, there is a turkey option for your table."

Where to Find Smaller Turkeys

If your Thanksgiving plans call for a smaller turkey, Leupen echoes Breeding's sentiment and suggests doing your Thanksgiving meal shopping early for more selection. She also says to not be afraid of going bigger and planning ahead for leftovers that can be used in sandwiches, soups, and casseroles.

"If there is a specific size turkey you want, your best bet is to shop early to ensure you can find it," Leupen adds. "The good news is that it is just as easy to cook a larger turkey as it is a smaller turkey, and the larger turkey means more leftovers — which for many people is one of the best parts of the Thanksgiving meal."

If you have too many leftovers, prepared turkey meat should be in the freezer within three days of cooking, and it can be kept frozen for two to six months for best quality, according to the USDA.

An option for those looking for a smaller turkey or fewer leftovers is to seek out an independent farmer, like Mary's Turkeys in the San Joaquin Valley near Fresno, Calif.; some of her turkeys are raised in Utah as well. The family-owned and operated farm raises three types of turkeys: non-GMO, certified organic, and heritage. The non-GMO and organic birds are free-range, and the heritage turkeys are pasture raised. All three are raised without antibiotics or hormones.

"Everyone wants to be with their families on Thanksgiving," Mary Kathryn Pitman, co-owner of Mary's Turkeys tells Allrecipes. "For months, I've had customers email me wanting to make sure where they could reserve one of my turkeys."

As far as where to find Mary's Turkeys, Pitman says that Pitnam Family Farms produces all of the organic turkeys for Sprouts (with Sprouts labels) and for Whole Foods Markets (with Whole Foods labels) in Arizona, Nevada, Southern California, and Hawaii. All three types of turkeys can be found at Natural Grocers stores throughout the U.S. To make it easier, check out the store locator on MarysTurkeys.com to find free-range and organic, and heritage turkeys near you. They're also available by mail order from Kristina's Natural Ranch Market and Taylor's Market.

"I recommend that you reserve one of our fresh turkeys when the store near you starts taking orders," Pitman says. "Most stores start taking orders on November 1; however, some start earlier in October."

Additionally, Koch's Turkey Farm's turkeys, which range in size from 12 to 28 pounds, are available at a selection of premium retailers, primarily on the East Coast, like Whole Foods Markets and MOM's Organic Market.

"There is a turkey for every table," Anderson says.

Remember, whether big or small, and whatever kind of turkey, the team of Butterball Turkey Talk-Line experts are just a phone call, text, or Alexa request away and will be ready to help however they can — just as they have for 40 years — to ensure your Thanksgiving feast is one for the history books.